A series of deadly explosions tore through crowds at Istanbul’s Atatürk international airport on Tuesday evening, leaving at least 36 people dead and scores more injured in an attack officials blamed on the Islamic State terror group.
Shortly before the blasts, assailants armed with AK-47 rifles exchanged gunfire with security guards outside the airport’s international terminal, according to officials.
The gunmen then detonated what are believed to have been suicide bombs. Three attackers died on the scene, said the Turkish prime minister, Binali Yıldırım.
Five of the dead were police officers, according to the Turkish national broadcaster TRT, which reported that at least 147 people were injured in the attack.
In a press conference in Istanbul on Tuesday night, Yıldırım said: “No matter where the terror comes from, our country is strong enough to fight against this terror. I call on every citizen to act in unity and stand by each other.” He said that by 2.22am local time air traffic was “back to normal and flights are resumed”.
Some foreigners were among the victims, he said.
A witness told Reuters that before the explosions one of the gunmen opened fire at random as he walked through the terminal.
“He was just firing at anyone coming in front of him. He was wearing all black. His face was not masked. I was 50 metres away from him,” said Paul Roos, 77, a South African tourist on his way back to Cape Town with his wife.
“We ducked behind a counter but I stood up and watched him. Two explosions went off shortly after one another. By that time he had stopped shooting.”
“He turned around and started coming towards us. He was holding his gun inside his jacket. He looked around anxiously to see if anyone was going to stop him and then went down the escalator … We heard some more gunfire and then another explosion, and then it was over.”
Security camera footage circulating on social media was said to show the moment one of the attackers was shot by a security guard. The footage, which could not be verified, showed the assailant dropping what appeared to be an assault rifle before collapsing to the floor. Seconds later he appeared to activate a suicide bomb.
“There were the sounds of gunfire, it was like thunder, then there was a fireball everywhere,” a taxi driver, named as Fatih, told CNNTurk. “My front window blew out, the car in front of me was turned into scrap.”
Fatih said that at the most two minutes passed between the gunfire and the explosion.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on all governments, especially in the west, to join forces in taking a “firm stand against terror”.
“The bombs that exploded in Istanbul today could have gone off at any airport in any city around the world. Make no mistake: for terrorist organisations there is no difference between Istanbul and London, Ankara and Berlin, Izmir and Chicago or Antalya and Rome.
“Unless all government and the entire mankind join forces in the fight against terrorism, much worse things than what we fear to imagine today will come true.”
Turkey’s justice minister, Bekir Bozdağ, told parliament in Ankara of the attack.
“I harshly condemn those who executed this terrorist attack, and those who gave the orders for it,” Bozdağ said.
Jared Malsin, a correspondent for Time, tweeted from the scene: “Hundreds of travellers now streaming out of the airport. Some saying they were trapped inside for 2+ hours … several witnesses confirming two separate explosions, the second one triggering a stampede inside the arrival hall.”
One witness, whose name was given as Omar, told TRT that his brother was wounded in the explosion at the arrivals hall as he was fetching his luggage. Covered in blood and in obvious distress, Omar described hearing both “the explosion” and “a lot of gun[fire]”.
He ran inside to look for his family, he said, and saw his brother lying on the floor. “I don’t know what to do,” he said.
In the immediate aftermath police barred access to the airport and some flights were diverted away from Istanbul. Videos on TRT showed travellers being evacuated to safety.
Turkish authorities issued a broadcast ban on the attack and Erdoğan held an emergency meeting with the prime minister and military commanders on Tuesday night.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts.
British foreign office officials said they were “urgently seeking further information” following the attack. The defence secretary, Philip Hammond, said he was “shocked” but “we stand ready to help”.
Turkey has been on high security alert after a string of terrorist attacks. Two deadly bombings in Istanbul earlier this year were blamed on Islamic State.
In early June a car suicide bomb killed 12 people in the central Vezneciler district of Istanbul in an attack claimed by radical Kurdish militants.
Facebook activated its safety check feature in the wake of the explosions. The tool lets users who are at or near the site of a natural disaster or terrorist attack mark themselves and others as safe, as well as check if any of their friends have been affected. Facebook’s disaster response pageposted a status in relation to the blasts.
Source: The Guardian